Webster Groves restaurants find ways to adapt in spite of pandemic

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Ghost kitchens. Delivery service. Curbside services. These are just some ways restaurant owners have had to get creative in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Olive + Oak was located at 102 W. Lockwood Ave. in Webster Groves before the pandemic. In 2020, Olive + Oak moved to a larger space at 216 W. Lockwood Ave. and the restaurant’s old location reopened as O+O Pizza in September.

Guerrilla Street Food closed two in-person restaurants because of COVID-19. Now, only the food truck and Webster Groves location remain and in-door seating has been removed. According to co-owner Joel Crespo, restaurants worked on small margins before the pandemic began.

“There were days and weeks and parts of this pandemic where we were like, we don’t know if we were going to make it another day, week, another month,” Crespo said. “So the fact that we’re here 10 months later, we’re extremely grateful.”

Yet Crespo and general manager of O+O Pizza Jordan Goodman agree that support for locally-owned restaurants remains. Webster Groves-based restaurants have been able to adapt – and in some cases expand – despite the pandemic.

Guerrilla Street Food’s food truck has lost most of its business at office buildings and festivals, according to Crespo. However, he felt starting the restaurant as a food truck has proven beneficial in the time of COVID-19.

Crespo said Guerrilla Street Food learned to adapt and work with different rules based on what county or area its truck visited. Along with learning to adapt to situations, Crespo said their style of food was influenced by the restaurant’s start.

“Our food is built to travel because we started as a food truck,” Crespo said. “When you get food from a food truck, you get it in a box and you walk back to work or you eat it in the park or whatever you might do, and it’s got to hold up.”

Crespo said the restaurant has relied on carryout and delivery only. Mission Taco Joint’s co-owner, Jason Tilford, is also offering people a new delivery option. However, the new opportunity does not deliver food from Mission Taco Joint. 

Ghost kitchen Holy Mole – inspired by now closed Milagro Modern Mexican – opened within Mission Taco Joint’s commissary. Customers must place their orders the day before they receive the food and can choose pickup or delivery. The ghost kitchen is currently operating on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Tilford said it was a fun challenge to adapt their food for an at-home dining experience.

“Cooking food in a kitchen and bringing it down on a plate is one thing, but being able to cook it, make it cold, make it able to be reheated in a microwave and still have great culinary style and quality was the hard part,” Tilford said. 

Olive + Oak’s move and O+O Pizza’s opening were planned long before the pandemic started, according to Goodman. However, he added pizza works well with carryout and delivery. 

Goodman said The Clover and the Bee – part of Olive + Oak’s hospitality group, where he is also general manager – started as a breakfast and lunch destination. He said the hospitality group saw a demand for another dinner location, though, so The Clover and the Bee worked to incorporate dinner options. When Olive + Oak’s first location became available, Goodman said it was an obvious choice to move the dinner service.

Perry Fischer, Mission Taco Joint’s commissary general manager, prepares
salmon for Holy Mole’s salmon dish. Orders can be placed on Holy Mole’s
website for pick-up or delivery

“I think it just made a lot of sense to kind of showcase that dinner that we were doing at Clover and the Bee, from our chef Mike Risk and to be able to give him a little bit bigger of a space,” Goodman said. “So kind of give him a showcase for what he was doing because it was really, really incredible, but it was not showing his full potential.”

Goodman said a trip co-owner Mark Hinkle took to Italy – paired with Risk’s Italian background – helped inspire the themed food at O+O Pizza and The Clover and the Bee. At Holy Mole, Tilford had an easy time deciding on the restaurant’s theme.

Tilford saw a Facebook post asking people about the best food they had ever had. Two comments mentioned food from Milagro Modern Mexican, the restaurant Tilford previously co-owned with his brother Adam Tilford. Tilford also cooked for a meeting of general managers of Mission Taco Joint and said he remembered how fun cooking for Milagro Modern Mexican had been. 

Since opening, Tilford has seen a positive response. 

“We’ve noticed anytime we put anything on social media, we always get a couple of orders, and it’s just kind of funny,” Tilford said. “We don’t want to overdo it though so we only [post] once a day.”

So many people visited O+O Pizza when it opened that Goodman said the restaurant had to add a temporary outdoor patio to accommodate everyone.

At Guerrilla Street Food, the food truck will be at 9 Mile Garden this season and is looking at visiting neighborhoods. Crespo said they are also considering the possibility of opening up a patio space with their landlord in the future. He said the health of customers remains a top priority for the restaurant, however, so any decisions will be made with caution.

“If we had a dining room and all these kinds of things, we would probably make more money, but we want to do the right thing and we want to do the responsible thing,” Crespo said. “We want to look out for our staff and customers because they’re important to us.”

While O+O Pizza does offer indoor dining spaces for guests, Goodman said the restaurant is dedicated to keeping everyone safe. They have added heaters and fire pits to outdoor seating so people can eat outside despite the cold. Customers have to wear masks when interacting with workers, and Goodman said the Olive + Oak restaurants have also spaced tables more than 6 feet apart and have filled to less than 25% capacity.

“It’s been great for me to work for a hospitality group that has, to me, [shown] that they have their employees in mind, not just making a dollar in a very hard time,” Goodman said. “To see that coming from Mark has been great, has been heartwarming just to see the love that he has for his employees and for his guests.”

Goodman said some people have told him they will not return until after safety regulations have been removed. Overall, however, he called the support the restaurant has received from customers a blessing.

“To go above and beyond and to tip the whole bill or well beyond the whole bill was incredible … ” Goodman said, “but also just getting a pizza, you know, three times a week, or just supporting us locally instead of going to some of the chains or the bigger places and being able to come in and just support whatever they can every week.”

Guerrilla Street Food is working with Jennifer Starkey from Webster University to connect with students and offer digital discount codes, according to Crespo. He said the restaurant has also seen repeat customers who are trying to support local restaurants. Some customers, Crespo said, even travel from out of state to support Guerrilla Street Food.

“That’s the thing that kind of restores your faith that things are going to work out when you get kind of frustrated or depressed because of the pandemic,” Crespo said. “Those are the things that like help you get through the day.”

Editor’s note: The description of the Holy Mole ghost kitchen was phrased differently in the digital print edition. The wording was changed to offer readers better clarity.

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Managing Editor | + posts

I major in journalism and minor in photography. I have covered COVID-19 and the 2020 general election. I enjoy writing, watching Netflix, crocheting and taking photos.